Newsday Profiles Ministries Bringing HIV/AIDS Message to Black Churches
To highlight the upcoming Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, Saturday's Newsday featured an article profiling the growing number of black churches taking steps to combat the epidemic in their congregations and communities. One such ministry is PEACE -- People Engaged in Answering the Call to Educate -- a Long Island ministry launched last year to prompt African-American churches to "confront and address" the issue of AIDS in their congregations. PEACE emphasizes abstinence and "personal responsibility" as tools for HIV prevention, but also prepares ministers to address safe sex. The organization provides outreach and education programs and trains members to provide HIV/AIDS counseling. Rev. Beresford Adams, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Coram, N.Y., said, "We think that the church is a viable place where you can encourage people to come and be tested and also be counseled, and if they have a need, we can support them both in the spiritual side of it as well as in other areas." New York-based Balm in Gilead is also trying to spread messages of HIV prevention and counseling through the network of black churches. Balm in Gilead, which started the week of prayer, has for the past four years trained congregation members to be HIV/AIDS educators. The organization also arranges for anonymous HIV testing to be provided through the New York State Department of Health at churches that request the service.
Making Inroads in Black Communities
PEACE founder Rev. Annie Carter said that while many black churches are making progress in addressing AIDS, some continue to refuse to do so. She said, "There are still some pastors who feel, 'Oh, no, we don't have that in our church. No one has AIDS.' Well, this is the year 2001, and we still have blinders on. That's because people in the church who have AIDS are afraid to come forward and ask for help." Balm in Gilead founder Pernessa Seele said that while "there is still a long way to go" for black churches in dealing with the epidemic, "progress" has been made. "The churches have moved from a point of engagement in prayer to a point of developing internal ministries, and now we have churches that are actually doing concrete outreach," she said. One group that is "crucial" to stemming the spread of HIV, Seele added, is young people. PEACE has targeted young people through a series of talks aimed at promoting "refusal skills," or "the ability to say 'no' to sexual relations before marriage," Newsday reports (Vincent, Newsday, 2/24).